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Plugged Ducts

Julie Vernon
San Francisco CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 2, March-April 2006, pp. 68-69

When my daughter was about seven weeks old, I began to have a problem with breastfeeding that surely must cause many mothers to give up: frequently plugged milk ducts. Since there was never a question in my mind that I would continue breastfeeding, and because I had the support of my LLL Leader and a lactation consultant, I did learn how to take care of the problem and enjoy breastfeeding. My daughter is now over three years old and we continue to breastfeed today. The first thing I did when the plugs developed was call my LLL Leader for support and information. She told me the following:

  • Take long, hot showers or baths and use moist hot packs on the breast. Breastfeeding the baby while the breast is warm will help unplug the affected duct.
  • Massage the breasts from the armpit down to the nipple while it is warm.
  • Nurse as much as possible on the affected side; the baby's sucking will help to loosen the plug.
  • Talk to other mothers with the same problem.
  • Get encouragement from loved ones.
  • Rest!

Most helpful of all, my LLL Leader was able to put me in touch with another mother who also had recurring plugged ducts. This woman told me something I hadn't heard anywhere else: that after about five or six months, most women find that the plugs just disappear. It seems that in the early months of nursing our breasts need to adjust to the ebb and flow of milk production. Our breasts can sometimes make more milk than our babies need, and if babies go a long stretch without nursing, a plug can develop. But as our breasts become more accustomed to the needs of our babies, the problem can resolve itself. It was good hearing that this problem might go away. Also, I felt encouraged just talking to another mother who had the same experience and could tell me how she coped.

She recommended all the same things that my LLL Leader and books had suggested, and this felt reassuring. I continued to develop plugs and to try all the suggestions my Leader and friend gave me. These things did help; the plugs would go away after a few days. But it was uncomfortable, often painful, and so much work to constantly be tending to my breasts.

Finally, I had an experience that taught me how to get rid of the plugs more quickly. When my daughter was four months old, I had a terrible plug that had lasted for several days. My breast was so swollen with milk that it was tight, painful, and almost unbearable. I got in the hot bath and began massaging my breast. As I bent over, something popped up and hit me in the face. It was the tiny dried piece of milk that had been plugging my duct! My breast started spouting milk like a fountain. As I massaged, more and more plugs came out. I would see the white spot in my nipple and gently squeeze it out, and more milk would stream out. It was then I learned the best way to get rid of plugs: take a hot bath and massage the breast until you see the white spot in your nipple. Then spread the nipple apart and squeeze the plug out. You might need to alternate massaging and squeezing for a while. It did sometimes take effort and time, but with patience, I could get plugs out in half an hour, rather than three days! This was a turning point for me. I was so happy I could get rid of the plugs more quickly and not have my life revolve around them. However, I wanted to find out how to prevent them, so I decided to see a lactation consultant.

First, the consultant told me that squeezing the plugs out of the nipple was safe. I'd been worried about hurting myself, so this was a relief. Then she recommended something else that was extremely helpful: she told me to put a heat pack on my breasts every time before breastfeeding. She suggested filling a long athletic sock with rice, sewing it shut, and heating it in a microwave for about a minute and a half. This worked wonders for me! The heat from the rice bag allows the ducts to open more fully so the milk can completely come down. This rice bag was much more convenient than the hot packs I put together with hot water and washcloths. Using this rice bag actually did stop the plugs from developing so often! I finally had found a method for prevention and my breastfeeding experience reached a new plateau of enjoyment and satisfaction.

I'm very grateful to all the people who supported me through this difficult time: my LLL Leader, lactation consultant, other mothers, and friends. They all helped me persevere and find methods that worked for me so I could enjoy breastfeeding to the fullest. I hope sharing my experience helps other mothers so that they can feel encouraged to keep going until they find out what works for them.

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